Dan Kennedy, Senior Writer & Media Critic, The
Boston Phoenix: 10th
keeping with Media Man Australia's tradition of tackling
any subject, we explore the world of media journalism,
through the eyes and words of one of American's most
respected and knowledgeable media writers, Dan Kennedy.
discusses the media landscape, life and his upcoming
am the senior writer and media critic at the Boston
Phoenix, where I have worked since 1991. From
1989-90 I was the editor and publisher of MetroNorth
Magazine, a news-and-lifestyle publication
for the suburbs north of Boston.
1979-88 I worked at the Daily
Times Chronicle, in Woburn, a suburb of Boston,
where I was a staff writer.
have a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern
University (1979)and a master's degree in American
history from Boston University (1984).
don't move around much -- I have always lived in the
do you prefer to report on and why?
a hard question. Maybe because everyone longs for
the greener field on the other side of the fence,
I guess I would say that I like to report on real
people, which I don't often get to do as a media critic.
positive differences have you made to the landscape
of the American media business?
hell, I don't know. I guess I'm quite proud of the
body of work I produced covering the presidential
campaign -- and the way the media covered the campaign
-- in 2000, for which I received the 2001 Arthur Rowse
Award for Press Criticism from the National Press
Club. I'd like to think I punctured a few media balloons,
especially over the press's untoward love affairs
with John McCain and Bill Bradley and its brutal treatment
of Al Gore.
aspects of the media business do you both most enjoy
like being more or less off on my own, writing pieces
that no one else is going to write. I despise pack
journalism. At best, you do as well as everyone else;
at worst, you get beaten. Ugh. Plus, if the AP is
doing a decent job of covering something, who wants
to be one of the 100 other reporters covering exactly
the same story?
mortgage and two kids, ages 12 and 10. Plus a rather
large ego, but shhhh!
us a little about your latest book?
a book about the culture of dwarfism, titled
"Little People: Learning to See the World Through
My Daughter's Eyes," and it will be published
in the US by Rodale this October. It's partly memoir
-- our 10-year-old daughter, Rebecca, is an achondroplastic
dwarf -- partly journalism, partly historical research,
and partly cultural criticism.
try to look at dwarfism as a metaphor for difference
and ask some of the big questions: Do we accept difference?
Do we celebrate it? Do we fear it? Would we eliminate
it if we had the chance -- which, thanks to genetic
advances, we increasingly will?
the course of the book I take a pretty wide-ranging
look at different aspects of dwarfism: history, culture,
medicine, and science. I've got quite a few interviews
with fascinating people, too.
can learn more about the book at my website, www.dankennedy.net
your take on the new FCC rulings?
a disaster. The FCC
is way too impressed with the fact that there are
more media outlets than ever before, and not nearly
worried about the fact that those outlets have fallen
into the hands of fewer and fewer owners.
than allowing further monopolization, the FCC should
be pushing the other way. It would be especially important
and useful to reverse the complete destruction we've
seen of commercial radio by re-imposing strict ownership
the American public fighting back? Why and how?
are some grassroots activists who say they've been
energized by this fight, and there are signs that
the public is far more outraged than it was in 1996,
when Congress passed the last big deregulation bill.
are also some signs that some members of Congress
are going to make a big issue of this. I'm not too
optimistic, but you never know.
news media organizations do your respect and trust
the most, and why?
to sound like a boring mainstream weenie, but the
two news organizations that I trust the most, and
that are the most comprehensive, are the
New York Times and National
Public Radio. They simply are unequaled in their
depth, their breadth, and their essential fairness.
is perfect, of course, and the recent Jayson Blair
scandal at the Times revealed all kinds of unsavory
truths about the paper. Obviously reforms are needed.
local public radio station carries the BBC World Service
for quite a few hours a day. Normally I find it pretty
boring, but it was invaluable during the war in Iraq,
when the American networks covered the war as "militainment"
-- a word coined by James Poniewozik,
the media critic for Time
never heard of the word until I read Danny Schechter's
new book, "Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception:
How the Media Failed to Cover the War on Iraq."
I have high regard for The
Washington Post and the Wall
Street Journal (although not the latter's nutty
read and admire a wide range of magazines and websites
-- The New Republic,
(a must for someone in my business), a few of the
better blogs (Josh Marshall, Daily Howler).
a big fan of Danny Schechter's Mediachannel.org
and of his daily blog, too.
your views on embedded journalism?
thought it worked fairly well. The real issue was
how embedded journalism was used. For television,
it became in too many instances the principal way
by which they offered "militainment." Our
all-news cable channels were especially bad, offering
little but embedded reports and jingoism of the most
mindless kind. (CNN
was a bit better than its rivals, the Fox
News Channel and MSNBC.)
contrast, the quality papers -- the Times, the Post,
and, locally, the Boston Globe -- used their embeds
as part of a broader package of stories each day,
which I think was the right way to do it.
the internet eventually put newspapers out of business?
yes and no. Ultimately the means of distribution are
not that important. Someday, whether it's in five,
10, or 50 years, I think newspapers will be distributed
electronically, most likely over the Internet or something
like it. So, no, the Internet won't put newspapers
out of business, but it will (and already has) drastically
changed their business.
newspapers quick enough to make the cross over to
websites / web portal, so they don't loose their audience?
above. In the US, the most heavily trafficked news
websites are parts of large news organizations --
the New York Times, the Washington Post, the networks,
and the like. The biggest problem is that real journalism
is expensive, and the Web -- at least to date -- forces
them to give away their content at a moment when there
is very little advertising on the Web.
freedom of the press in America?
the late, great media critic A.J.
Liebling observed, "Freedom of the press
belongs to the man who owns one." I'm grateful
to work under the protections of the First Amendment,
and I'm lucky to work at an alternative weekly, where
I have a lot of freedom to cover stories that I want
to cover the way I want to cover them. But -- and
I really don't want to sound like some sort of lefty,
because I'm really a mainstream liberal -- freedom
of speech generally remains subservient to corporate
can say anything he likes within the confines of the
libel laws, but it can be very difficult to get yourself
blogging movement is promising as an alternative to
corporate voices,but I don't see much sign that anyone
is paying much attention except other bloggers and
a few people in the media.
are the highlights of your career?
I mentioned the 2000 presidential campaign. I guess
I would also say that, in the 1980s, I covered the
Woburn toxic-waste trial, which was later turned into
the very fine book (and very mediocre movie) "A
Civil Action," by Jonathan Harr.
number of families in Woburn alleged that their children
had contracted leukemia as the result of toxic chemicals
dumped into the groundwater by several large industrial
firms. It was a fascinating story, as well as a privilege
to get to know some of the families who brought the
accolades and awards meant the most to you?
works of yours are your favorites, and why?
I'm going to say my forthcoming book!
do you balance business and a social life?
put in a lot of hours, but since I'm a writer for
a weekly rather than a beat reporter for a daily,
I have some freedom as to how I allocate those hours.
I go out very little. My social life tends to revolve
around my family.
are your biggest supporters?
I work in a very supportive environment at the Phoenix,
my biggest supporters are definitely my wife, Barbara
Kennedy, and my kids, Tim and Becky.
are your biggest detractors?
don't know. I get a lot of nasty e-mail, but I'm not
aware of anyone conducting any sort of campaign against
do rip people pretty hard, so I must have some enemies
out there, but I tend not to hear from them.
you ever found yourself if court over anything you
news media outlets do you contribute to?
a full-time employee of the Boston Phoenix. I have
written for The New Republic, Slate, Salon, and some
smaller publications, but I keep it to a minimum because,
as a media critic, it's awkward to write for publications
that I might write *about*.
am a semi-regular member of a weekly media panel that
is part of "Greater Boston," a public-affairs
show on WGBH-TV,
the local public television station.
What is the scope of your relationship
I wrote an every-other-week media column for them
for most of 1996, and wouldn't mind writing for them
again, but haven't.
are your current projects?
ready for Boy Scout summer camp with Tim. (I am an
assistant scoutmaster of our troop.) And preparing
for the release of "Little
People." Man, it's summer up here in the
Northern Hemisphere. I don't want to deal with no
you so much for your interest. I hope you find at
least some of this usable.
note: This was very usable to say the least. Dan Kennedy
is a man with strong opinions on the media, and backs
it up, week after week with facts. Anyone wanting
to keep up to date with the media business in the
United States, and indeed the world, needs to read
Dan Kennedy's words - end of story! We will continue
to hear a great deal more from Dan Kennedy. Greg
Tingle (Media Man Australia).